Swadesh list is a word list of basic concepts in a language. So I am wondering, is there a list of basic sentences analog to the Swadesh word list?

1 Answer 1



Let me try to explain why: The Swadesh list is mainly designed as a tool to study the genetic relationship between languages. Therefore it tries to identify some basic words that are most likely to be inherited and not borrowed, and that are also replaced with a rather low rate with concurring words of the same language. It does not provide semantic primitives, there are other tools to provide something like this.

There are, to my knowledge, not syntactic features identified that are as conserved as the words in the Swadesh list. Some basic features from linguistic typology like word order may apply here, but they are few and not formulated in a practical list like the Swadesh list.

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    You got it. The reason why it's words and not sentences is that sentences are not conserved. Most sentences are unique and have never been uttered by the speaker before, so there's no reason to look for them in historical linguistics. Words, on the other hand, do get preserved, though not always in the same form. That's one reason why historical syntax is very vague, while vocabulary can be very exact.
    – jlawler
    Commented Nov 19, 2022 at 19:03

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